Certificate In Alternative Farming

Study alternative farming by distance education, learning sustainable agriculture techniques for farming crops and livestock; all by distance education.

Course CodeVSS103
Fee CodeCT
Duration (approx)600 hours

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Farming can be Profitable, Healthy and a Dream Lifestyle

Some farms struggle though; so it's important to make wise and informed choices about what you do, and how you do it.

  • Get to know the options for your land
  • Choose to produce things that are compatible with your resources
  • Don't over extend yourself
  • Take the time to learn, plan and do each job properly

This course connects you with a tutor who knows the options, has both training and experience in agriculture, and can mentor you as you learn and develop your approach to farming. Our course places a great deal of emphasis upon discovering the options, building networks and establishing a solid, scientific foundation for day to day work on a farm.


  • Produce Different Products
  • Use Different Farming Methods
  • Sell Your Produce in Different Ways


Core ModulesThese modules provide foundation knowledge for the Certificate In Alternative Farming.
 Sustainable Agriculture BAG215
 Organic Farming BAG305
Elective ModulesIn addition to the core modules, students study any 4 of the following 21 modules.
 Herb Culture BHT114
 Aquaculture BAG211
 Commercial Organic Vegetable Growing VHT241
 Cut Flower Production BHT221
 Forage Management BAG226
 Goat Production BAG223
 Green Walls and Roofs BHT256
 Hydroponic Management (Hydroponics II) BHT213
 Hydroponics I BHT224
 Mariculture - Marine Aquaculture BAG220
 Nut Production BHT219
 Permaculture Systems BHT201
 Pigs BAG209
 Plant Breeding BHT236
 Poultry BAG208
 Protected Plant Production BHT223
 Trees For Rehabilitation BHT205
 Viticulture BHT220
 Agricultural Marketing BAG304
 Animal Breeding BAG301
 Aquaponic Production BHT319

Note that each module in the Certificate In Alternative Farming is a short course in its own right, and may be studied separately.

What are the Alternatives to Mainstream Farming?

Mainstream farming today tends to be large scale, using all of the technologies that are available for reducing the cost of production and maximizing the productivity and annual profitability of a farm. Large scale farming tends to focus on the crops and livestock that can be produced and sold in large quantities - beef, cattle, cereal crops, cotton, etc. These mainstream farms are focused on financial return for the owners or investors; and usually that means producing quantity and marketing produce through large and increasingly international markets.

Alternative farming is anything that is different to this.

Alternative farms may be small, producing niche crops that are not needed on a large enough scale for them to be produced in mass. They may be different in terms of the way the produce is farmed; without the same level of chemical input or mechanisation. When products are grown more naturally, on a smaller scale or more slowly, the final produce may have different characteristics. It may be cleaner, or it may taste or look different, for instance. The differences found in produce from alternative farms can appeal to a different type of buyer, and this may give the alternative farmer a marketing advantage.

Alternative farming can be slower and may not always be as profitable in the short term; but it can also be more sustainable for both the farmer and the land that is being farmed. Over time; smaller, alternative farms may well survive as viable family businesses, when larger mainstream farms do not. 

Consider Biodynamics - one type of Alternative Farming?

Biodynamic farming and gardening is a natural practice which developed from a series of lectures given by Rudolf Steiner in 1924. It has many things in common with other forms of natural growing, but it also has a number of characteristics which are unique.

It views the farm or garden as a "total" organism and attempts to develop a sustainable system, where all of the components of the living system have a respected and proper place.

There is a limited amount of scientific evidence available which relates to biodynamics. Some of what is available suggests biodynamic methods do in fact work! It will, however, take a great deal more research for mainstream farmers to become convinced widely of the effectiveness of these techniques; or in fact for the relative effectiveness of different biodynamic techniques to be properly identified.

Principles of Biodynamics

  • Biodynamics involves a different way of looking at growing plants and animals.
  • Plant and animal production interrelate. 
  • Manure from animals' feeds plants. Plant growth feeds the animals.
  • Biodynamics considers the underlying cause of problems and attempts to deal with those causes rather than dealing with superficial ways of treating problems. Instead of seeing poor growth in leaves and adding nutrients; biodynamics considers what is causing the poor growth -perhaps soil degradation, wrong plant varieties - or whatever? It then deals with the bigger question.
  • Produce is a better quality when it is "in touch" with all aspects of a natural ecosystem. Produce which is produced artificially (e.g. battery hens or hydroponic lettuces) will lack this contact with "all parts of nature", and as such the harvest may lack flavour, nutrients, etc., and not be healthy food.
  • Economic viability and marketing considerations affect what is grown.
  • Available human skills, manpower and other resources affect what is chosen to be grown.
  • Conservation and environmental awareness are very important.
  • Soil quality is maintained by paying attention to soil life and fertility.
  • Lime, rock dusts and other slow acting soil conditioners may be used occasionally.
  • Maintaining a botanical diversity leads to reduced problems.
  • Rotating crops is important.
  • Farm manures should be carefully handled and stored.

Developing a Biodynamic Farm or Garden

The first step is always to look at the property as a single organism, and to appreciate that whatever changes are made to the property can have implications to many (probably all) of the component parts of that property. There is an obvious (though sometimes subtle) relationship between every plant or animal and its surroundings, both the nearby and the more distant surroundings.

Biodynamic Preparations

These are a particularly unique and important aspect of biodynamics. There are all sorts of biodynamic preparations. There is a wide experience (throughout many countries) which suggests the use of these preparations is beneficial, resulting in both morphological and physiological changes in plants (e.g. better ripening rates, better dry matter, carbohydrate and protein rates).

Some of these special preparations are outlined below:

  • In the book "Organic Farming" by Lambkin (Farming Press, U.K.); two different sprays (500 and 501) are mentioned as being commonly used. These are made from a precise formulation of quartz and cow manure and are sprayed on crops at (very) diluted rates. Biodynamic growers in the U.K. and elsewhere also use preparations made from plants to stimulate compost and manure heaps.
  • Cow manure is placed in a cow horn and buried over winter, with the intention of maintaining a colony of beneficial organisms in the horn over the cold months which can then recolonise the soil quickly in the spring.
  • Insect control sprays are commonly made as follows:
    Catch some of the grubs or insects which are becoming a pest. Mash them to a pulp (perhaps in a food processor), then add water and place in a sealed jar for a few days in a refrigerator. Once fermentation begins, remove and dilute with water (100:1). Spray over affected plants. This is said to repel the insects, though no scientific evidence is known to support the treatment.
  • Biodynamic growers use a variety of different preparations to add to compost heaps or spray on paddocks or garden plots to encourage faster decomposition.
  • Preparations have included: yarrow flowers, valerian flowers, oak bark, calendula flowers, comfrey leaves and preparations from Casuarina and Allocasuarina species.


Studying this course will take you to a level beyond the basic permaculture training that most permaculturists undertake.
It involves more than eight times as much study as a normal Permaculture Design Certificate; but in doing this extra study, you will have so much more knowledge and a greater awareness of what you might achieve using permaculture for developing your own property, or helping develop other properties as a friend, colleague, consultant, teacher or writer.

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Marius Erasmus

Subsequent to completing a BSc (Agric) degree in animal science, Marius completed an honours degree in wildlife management, and a masters degree in production animal physiology. Following the Masters degree, he has worked for 9 years in the UK, and South
Alison Pearce

Alison brings a wealth of knowledge and experience to ACS students. She has worked as a University Lecturer, has also run a veterinary operating theatre; responsible for animal anaesthesia, instrument preparation, and assistance with surgical techniqu
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